Are you familiar with the concept of "staging?" You know...it's setting things up very carefully to make it look as though it happened naturally. We stage all the time, often without realizing how deliberately we're trying to be nonchalant! We do it for pictures, in our homes, and in fashion (think about how long it takes to get your hair to have that casual-curl "tousled" look!).
But the strangest staging to me is the staging of the seasons. It fascinates me to think of how we drag pumpkins, stalks of corn, bales of hay, sheaves of wheat and colorful leaves onto our porches or into our kitchens for an autumnal atmosphere. We make apple pie, butternut squash soup, roasted root veggies and mulled cider. Then we light apple-cinnamon candles, sip pumpkin spice lattes, and go to the pumpkin patch wearing our plaid flannel shirts, infinity scarves and skinny jeans tucked into our boots!
And it's not just fall we've fallen for! At Christmas, we're decking the halls with holly and evergreen, baking Christmas cookies, lighting fir-scented candles, sipping peppermint mochas, and wearing red mittens, jackets with fur-trimmed hoods, and infinity scarves and skinny jeans tucked into our boots! And we even go the extra mile to add music to that season!
In the spring and summer, we stop lighting candles because we can bring fragrant flowers right inside. We gorge ourselves like bears out of hibernation on all the fresh berries that ripen in glorious waves of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blueberry, blackberry and peach. We ice our lattes, and we finally toss the boots into the closet and wear strappy sandals with our skinny jeans, and our infinity scarves lose a lot of weight as we switch out the knits for airy cotton!
This staging of the seasons is nothing more than replicating a by-gone era. We reproduce something we've never known and make it our own. Think back 100 years ago...
A century ago in autumn, the fields were ripe for harvest. The wheat was golden, the corn stalks towered in height, the hay baled and ready for winter feeding, and pumpkins gathered to be roasted and canned, not carved. The apples and root veggies were gathered in baskets, wooden crates and tin pails not because they were vintage, retro or charming but because industrial-strength plastic crates and clam-shell packaging hadn't been invented yet. Then those fruits and veggies were stored in cold cellars so there would be produce to eat during the long winter months when nothing grew and no one could run to the store for grapes from Chili, mangoes from Mexico and hydroponic tomatoes from a greenhouse. Ladies bought canning jars for (gasp) canning, not for flower vases, drinking glasses, or smoothie shakers. Kitchens were filled with the fragrance of good food because the harvest must be preserved...a huge, messy job that was necessary for survival, not a couple batches of pretty peaches or jelly in jars displayed on a shelf, but the true process of "putting up" produce...beans, tomatoes, corn, peaches, pears, pickles, beets, squash, plums...everything that could be canned would be canned! They ate butternut squash soup and applesauce and kale because that's what was in season and available, not because it was cozy "fall food." And if there were colorful leaves all over the yard it was because they didn't have a leaf-blower to remove them in 10 minutes and they were too busy in the fields and kitchen to bother raking them until later in the season when they were dry, brown and broken down. All those pumpkins sitting in a happy heap in a wagon? Well, they were simply loaded up like that so they could be hauled to market to sell to townfolk. And the bales of hay were stacked up not to look like a pretty decoration, but to fill a barn with insulating warmth for the animals, bedding for their stalls, and food for the winter months of no grass to graze. Plaid flannel shirts were great for working...warm enough to keep away the chilly autumn air but light enough to buck those bales of hay, pick the apples, and dig potatoes. Boots were necessary for working in mud. And pumpkin spice lattes and eternity scarves didn't even exist.
I've thought about this "season staging" over the last few years, but it was just this weekend that I had the epiphany that inspired me enough to actually name the phenomenon (by the way, that is my original phrase!). On Saturday I went to the pumpkin patch for the sole purpose of buying donuts. There is a local farm that makes homemade pumpkin spice and apple cider donuts and serves them fresh and hot in a paper bag. They are really the only donut I like and I buy them every year. I took my daughter and her friend along for the ride on that gorgeous morning---a truly quintessential autumn day at the peak of the season. The leaves were bursting with color and still mostly on the trees but with enough fallen to the ground to produce the perfect "crunch factor." The fields were golden, the sky was blue, the barn was red, and the pumpkins were plump and jumbled together in a kaleidoscope of orange, yellow, pink and white. Because it was Saturday, the place was packed with people. We parked and walked towards the sounds of laughter and humming motors and came upon a huge inflatable "barn" for the kids to jump in. How fun! Then the pony rides were right beside that...patient little ponies tethered to a ring, walking in circles with both crying and laughing kids on their backs. On the other side of the ponies was the pumpkin patch. Yeah, right. It was just a gigantic pile of already-picked pumpkins scattered on the ground so all you had to do was pick up your favorite and take it home. Beyond that was a hay maze, a haunted barn, a giant slide into a pile of hay, a little "cow" choo-choo train and a wagon full of hay pulled by a tractor for rides, a guy strumming a guitar and singing country songs, a petting zoo, a big barn gift shop selling pies, candles, apples, cider and whimsical fall décor, a booth that popped fresh kettle corn, a concession stand for hot dogs, and....DONUTS! We skipped all of the above and headed straight for the donuts. Then we took our greasy paper bags and walked away from the madding crowd of noisy kids and excited parents (I'm obviously very much in between having little kids and grandkids...when you have neither you really don't enjoy being around those who do!). There was a little path that curved down around a hill towards tall trees, in which nestled a real barn with real horses and an irrigation pond beside it. From there you could see the real fields where the pumpkins actually grew and the brittle stubble of a harvested hay field. We found some clean hay on the ground to sit on, and we made ourselves comfortable. There, in the quiet countryside, we enjoyed our treats---salted caramel lattes we had grabbed to-go on our way to the farm, cinnamon-sugary donuts, and a healthy organic apple to counter the carb deficit of the donut. As I took the first bite of my donut I suddenly looked at myself...pumpkin spice donut in one hand, latte in the other and my apple balanced on my knee, sitting in the hay wearing skinny jeans and boots and an infinity scarf. Yep, I really was. I thought I was avoiding the hype of the pumpkin patch but had actually plopped myself down right in the middle of it! I said to Kate, "Take my picture." I knew right then I was going to blog this "ah-ha" moment!
So, here I am contemplating the silliness of staging and the satisfaction of it. Why do I go to such effort to both avoid it and embrace it? I long for the natural, genuine beauty of fall, but I enjoy just as much bringing that beauty into my home (and my tummy!). So I sit here and blog about it, listening to the leaf-blower outside my window, swishing away the lovely leaves I just crunched my way through on my morning run, while I sip my latte and enjoy the fragrance of my "Fall Leaves" candle that I can light now that my allergic husband has left for work. I've decided it's too difficult and no fun to separate the two but to enjoy each just the way it is. This is our culture and our day. We don't live 100 years ago when harvest was harvest and fall was just one of the four seasons. We can be thankful for the harvest, eat of the harvest, and even bring the harvest right inside our homes. We can go to the pumpkin patch and the apple festival and absorb the whole 21st century "farm" experience. We can light spicy-sweet scented candles in our kitchens and bake an apple pie. We can drink hot spiced cider and pumpkin spice lattes to our hearts' content. And we can walk in the solitude of a wooded path where the leaves fall and no one blows them away. Fall is both staged and unrehearsed. So put on your infinity scarf and get out there and enjoy it!